Tagged: acoustic

Are You Experienced

Jean Dubuffet
Expériences Musicales De Jean Dubuffet (II)

Long overdue notice for this fine double-CD set of the strange music of Jean Dubuffet which we’ve had here in the boxes since late 2012. If you’re keen on the visual arts then chances are you’ll have heard of Dubuffet as an early champion of what has since come to be called “outsider art”. Along with Ernst, Klee and others he was among the first 20th century artist to take note of pictures produced in insane asylums (which had probably been ignored or dismissed by society), but more to the point he developed a very convincing and passionate aesthetic in support of what he called “Art Brut”. I recall when I first read one of his essays on the subject, and I must have experienced some sort of epiphany. He was proposing a radical rethink, not only of our art-appreciation senses, but of the very meaning of humanity, society, and the purpose of art within it. I’ve always admired Dubuffet’s no-nonsense “all or nothing” stance on this matter; likewise his own impasto paintings, which were almost visual manifestations of his polemic, powerful and burning images that cut directly to the heart of the brain in highly forceful ways. A lot of people probably thought he was embracing ugliness for the sake of it, as part of a concerted post-war effort to overthrow everything we knew about conventional beauty. The truth is he was trying to reconnect us all to our own human-ness in the most direct and primal manner possible. It’s not too far-fetched to consider that Dubuffet’s aesthetic was paving the way for Captain Beefheart, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, The Residents, and any number of our favourite outsider / self-taught / naive musicians.

Dubuffet clearly applied this very direct attitude to everything he did in his art and his life, if this record is anything to go by. Everything here was recorded over some months around 1960-1961, which means that th’ Buffster would’ve been about 60 years old at the time – his fiery passion for raw innovation and experimentation still undimmed. He did it with the help of his friend, the painter Asger Jorn, who in fact initiated the sessions of improvised music round at his house. Both the act of creating the music, and capturing it on a tape recorder, were approached in Dubuffet’s very hands-on style, just wading in there and doing it. They weren’t absolute amateurs, it seems, and the notes here reveal that Jorn was fairly well practiced with the violin and trumpet, and Dubuffet was calling on his childhood piano lessons to stand him in good stead on the near-defunct piano they were using. Out of tune and in need of repair, this old keyboard clearly fit the bill for the plan. They both instinctively knew these sessions were not about “virtuosity”, and they scurried off in pursuit of liberated and weird sounds. They used acoustic instruments – piano, cello, trumpet and recorder, then gradually added other instruments with which they weren’t familiar, including obscure and outmoded devices, folk instruments, and ethnic instruments. Easy enough to observe some parallels with Sun Ra and his Strange Strings experiments here, and I expect I’m not the first glib pundit to have done so…At the same time, Dubuffet makes it clear that he had zero knowledge of modern composition, nor what would come in time to be called “free improvisation”. Part of the art brut deal is remaining “untainted” by too much cultural knowledge, which is why shut-ins and introverts do it so well.

The tape recordings themselves were also primitive and amateurish. Dubuffet did them himself, using non-professional equipment, and freely admits he had no idea about “correct” microphone placement. As such, he embraced accidents and welcomed the grunginess of bad reproduction. He was often delighted when the machine played back odd sounds that he hadn’t intended to record. And he developed a crude editing method using scissors and tape, and extremely limited playback facilities; which in turn evolved into an even cruder overdubbing technique of some sort, allowing him to record multiple instances of his instruments and become an “art brut” version of a one-man band. Later he kinda admitted defeat and added a second tape recorder and a mixing desk to this set-up, but the point is valid. Dubuffet was busy inventing lo-fi on his own terms in 1961. “All spheres of the arts could benefit from using simpler techniques,” he states with conviction. “I also believe that art does not need to be refined. I am all for wild and unaffected charms rather than frills and furbelows.”

The music you hear has plenty of wild charms…but look at the photographs by Jean Weber reprinted in the booklet here, apparently 1 showing the creator at work blowing trumpets, bassoons, horns, wielding a violin bow in unconventional manner, and pursuing the craft of generating his unusual sounds. What I like here is that Dubuffet is impeccably dressed throughout, with his cardigan buttoned, his tie neatly drawn up against his white collar, and his trousers newly-pressed with razor-sharp creases (and look at those great turn-ups!). At all times, his face bears the mark of a creator taking the work absolutely seriously. 2. It adds quite a lot to the experience looking at these images of poise, grace and sartorial elegance while listening to the music on the discs, all of which is completely loopy.

This particular release compliments the 1991 CD released on the French Circé label in 1991, and reissued on the Mandala label in 1996. But that contained only nine of the 20 pieces originally recorded; here are the remaining eleven cuts. Before this, there was a 1973 release by Ilhan Mimaroglu on his Finnadar label, although the music was originally released in 1961 as an art edition of 60 copies, pressed on six 10-inch vinyl LPs.

  1. It’s possible these images are “posed” after the event, i.e. they don’t depict the actual recording / creation process, but they’re still great.
  2. I am reminded of footage of the great sculptor Alberto Giacometti, who always turned up in the studio dressed in a jacket and tie; none of that scruffy blue-jeans look for these dapper pre-war Europeans, a trend which I suppose came later with slouches like Jackson Pollock.

Reflexion Interior

The item Eins Bis Sechzehn (CRONICA 069-2012) is by the sound artist Ephraim Wegner and the visual artist Julia Weinmann, with their audio and visual snapshots of old ruined hotels. Presumably they wander about these collapsing edifices while no-one is looking and operate their capture devices before a wedge of plaster falls on their heads. They present the finished work as a fairly short CD – just six tracks of field recordings – and a portfolio of full-colour photographs, very well printed and some of them folding out into friezes. Although at first glance / listen we may think we’re facing a rather empty and desolate set of surroundings, in fact there are minimal traces of human endeavour and past lives embedded in the recordings. We can hear something bumping about like the ghost of a portly man settling into a sofa or furniture removers operating a service lift. Also other signs of life, like birds twittering outside or the distant seashore. Evocative and airy, it’s quite a benign undertone here, and clearly not directed by Stanley Kubrick in the ruins of the Overlook Hotel while furrowing his beetling brow. I’m very much reminded of Michael J. Schumacher and his 2003 release Room Pieces – this one seems to be poking around in similar enigmatic blank zones. I haven’t read their lengthy explanation in the notes though, as I suspect it’s trying to overstretch a simple idea with one too many “resonances”.

Another nice printed book + CD package is GROC 1912-2012 (SONORIDAD AMARILLA) and may have emerged from a music festival in Sant Sebastia. Mostly printed in Spanish with English translations. Miguel A Garcia is involved, and so are Artur Vidal, Coco Moya and Alicia Grueso. The book is a puzzling set of fragmented texts, alongside equally baffling but very direct monochrome images, making me feel I’m wandering through a conceptual art exhibit from 1970s England rather than flipping the pages of a book. The CD is even more opaque, short tracks where nothing is really explained but which sound like captured output from the most avant-garde radio station ever to have escaped the attention of the authorities. There’s a gorgeous “distant” quality; you can almost see tiny figures moving about inside a small surreal TV set glowing with yellow light. Things may become clearer if you read the texts while listening. The book is a libretto, structured like scenes from a play (with very strange stage directions), and it’s possible to interpret everything as the soundtrack to a performance of a gently absurd drama, almost as empty as a Beckett drama, but without the despair. The creators are aiming at a certain open-ended framework so that the performance can “project into the viewer’s imagination”, and there are hints at painterly sensibilities at work what with the fleeting Kandinsky reference, and the fact that Groc translates from Catalan as “yellow”. It’s to everyone’s credit here that so much can be expressed in a small, compacted package, and this beguiling little gem will grow on all those who own it and live with it.

Segments (EM002) is the second release from Emitter Micro, the German label who sent us the 2 (3) Incomplete Triptychs cassette in a clear box. As HiFi / LoNoise, the trumpeter Louis Laurain is joined by the electronics of Pierce Warnecke for 21 minutes of thoroughly abstracted sound – starting as puffy blankets of “reduced improv” minimalism, then exploding into a more full-bodied broth of amplified buzziness. Evidence of strong concentration and focus from both players here. Has a refreshing “raw” quality; untreated surfaces which you could use as building blocks in modular self-assembly furniture, and transform your living quarters.

I’ll confess I’m struggling slightly to derive much meat from the wispy melodic bones of Twilight Peaks (SMERALDINA-RIMA 20), a Robbie Basho release which was reissued by the Belgian Smeraldina-Rima label in 2012. This may be because it was originally an unabashed New Age release, issued in 1985 by a New York organisation called The Relaxation Company on their Vital Body Marketing label, and existed as a cassette with a bland cover of soothing dimensions and packaged as “Rich & lyrical solo guitar”. Basho had his own reasons for treading the New Age music path; one possible motivation could have been that his music didn’t catch on as expected with the “folk music” audience, and by the mid-1980s when it seemed that New Age music was in the ascendancy, he decided to hitch his wagon to that twinkly star. Maybe it’s time for this overlooked genre to undergo some form of reappraisal. The writers Richard Osborn and Glenn Jones, who provide the notes to this release, need no such persuading and they write from the depths of their own experience; Jones, who produced this reissue from original tapes, was a friend of Basho and articulates the beauty and value of this music well, making a good case in a sympathetic manner. After all it’s fair to say that Basho has not sacrificed an iota of his skill or artistry here, and there’s still the focus and precision in the playing that characterises his earlier music. The overall saminess of the sound, and its rather thin over-processed patina, may start to grow wearisome to the ears after a while, but that’s the central paradox of this item; it might be a rare case of high art hidden within a bland and commercialised genre. This reissue adds three tracks not on the original cassette, including two live cuts; these live recordings have escaped the cosseting effects of the original studio production and have a slightly rougher edge; these extra 12 minutes may make all the difference to you if you’re considering adding this to your Basho collection. Tremendous cover art, but it’s a little bit misleading as to the musical content.

Getting Through Accidentals

An astonishing outpouring of energy from Invisible Things on their Home Is The Sun (PORTER RECORDS PRCD-4069) album. The label Porter Records is often home to some far-out free jazz enterprises, but this bizarre monster has most of its clammy paws planted in the art-rock camp…the duo of American players Mark Shippy and Jim Sykes realise most of this dazzling escapade with a guitar and drums set-up, although Shippy also adds rich keyboard layers and sings, and guest player Jeff Ziegler is on hand to supply further keyboard goodiness like so much cookie dough. Drummer Jim Sykes apparently bases his work on a deep awareness of percussion methods from Sri Lanka, applied to modern instruments…given that Sri Lankan percussion traditions are said to be about 2500 years old, and at one time the culture had over 30 different types of drum, this is quite an achievement. On Home Is The Sun, there are 17 short tracks which are in fact index points for a enormous whole thing, a continual and overwhelming flying carpet of remarkable music. I think both players come from a Chicago background, with respective histories in bands Parts and Labor, Grooms, Marnie Stern, U.S. Maple, Miracle Condition, and Shorty, and have been honing this approach to their craft since they met in 2009. Impressive, and not just admirably clever; it rattles and roars with unhinged, psychedelic mayhem. Personally I far prefer this open-ended and juicy lubed-up style of playing to the tight-ass precise renditions of Om, for example. The electrifying cover art truly lives up to the music within. From 9th October 2012.

Seth Cooke realised Pneuma (LF RECORDS LF028) using just his crotales (percussion instrument, a specific type of cymbal array) on one track and a pneumatic drill on the other, hence the title. Certainly a process piece, requiring long duration; two tracks at nearly half an hour apiece; gradual shifts in timbre across continual tones. But not an infuriating piece of semi-preciousness, Cooke’s work retains a steely core of hard-edged realism and never drifts off into the clouds of ivory-tower aesthete-land, where velvet-caped fops may shower you with lilacs. If you just read about the crotales piece, it may put you in mind of soppy singing-bowl type music, but when you actually hear it it’s as sturdy as a sheet of tin; it just hangs in the air like an unyielding, brutal, fact. The drill piece is also surprising; far from the industrial noise-brutality some listeners or fans of SPK might expect, it’s an ingenious well-structured composition whose every waking moment is a vehicle for contemplation. “Drills are the aspiration of the male saga”, is all he’s prepared to tell us, by means of an obscure quote; no doubt he’s alluding to the phallic qualities of the pneumatic drill, a factor that leads most road workers to take up the job in order to cure their problems of impotence and flaccidity. There’s nothing like feeling a powerful metal shaft surging between your thighs to cure those erectile tissue problems. If Cooke can tame the savagery of this particular mechanical penis-like device, methinks he could set out a plausible plan for altering the entire mind-set of the modern world, by a combination of chemical processes and other, more occult, strategies. Given Cooke’s wide range of useful skills – he is a sound artist, percussionist who plays unusual objects, and a practising psycho-therapist – anything seems possible. From 27 December 2012.

Third release in from the Norwegian Va Fongool label, and this time we’re moving away from the high-energy high-decibel clattery rough-house parties that Eirik Tofte gravitates towards for his Oslo-based label. PGA are the duo of Jan Martin Gismervik and Fredrik Luhr Diterichson, who perform all of Corrections (VAFCD003) using just an acoustic bass and drum set, though the duo are joined by the brass players Nørstebø and Larsen for a couple tracks. Very far from jazz, music, or even improvised music – this intense, minimal stuff just creaks like broken boughs of an old oak, while sloughing its way out of the speakers like three-day old porridge. I just love the severe and sullen aspect of their sound, which makes virtually no concessions, refusing to be held hostage and turning many debtors away from its door. The pair themselves are far from being cranky old geezers though, and come to us from lively backgrounds in group playing – Moskus, Skadedyr, Sagstuen, Karokh, and the Wolfram Trio, where they both played – see here for a review of that album, also on this label. Apparently the rhythm section couldn’t make themselves heard about the blurty racket from tenor saxman Halvor Meling, so their only course of action was to have him assassinated. The Norwegian Mafia were hired to do the job, and they sealed Meling’s feet in a bucket of cement and then threw him in the Hobølelva. With “Old Hooty” out of the picture, Gismervik and Diterichson could proceed unimpeded with their new minimal plan. Sure enough, pared down to a duo of scrapey wooden and metallic noise-production using highly innovative methods, this pair have a chance to shine – or at least to glimmer like the limpid light of a pond in a heavy fog under the obscured winter sun. Arrived 23 October 2012.

We last heard from Hitoshi Kojo with his Omnimoment CD from 2012, although this unclassifiable Japanese musician is also one half of Jüppala Kääpiö, a name which betrays his likely preoccupation with modern Finnish music and its eccentric psychedelic clutter. High Tide Mirror (OMNIMOMENTO OM06 / SHINING DAY SHINE 12) contains six pieces of very accomplished layered studio working, where whatever instruments were originally used are cunningly blended and morphed into kaleidoscopes of shimmering, bustling sound. Not a surface is left unfilled in these incredibly “busy” scapes, presenting elaborate views of a colourful fantasy world. I am always deeply impressed by the surface beauty of this music at first listen, but then find my attention wandering and I begin to wonder if they really need to be nine or twelve minutes long, since little of any value is added by the duration. Instead of of 6 long tracks, it might be interesting if Kojo were to present 24 short tracks, where the intense and dazzling strangeness of his inventions could astound the listener for a precious moment, then swiftly fade away like a vanishing dream. The cover is fantastic, made of screenprinted card with a cut-out hole and a triangular flap, with sumptuous images of foliage and sealife.

Too From Tomoonttontwo



My enthusiasm for Finnish psychedelic music will never equal that of those fanatical folks at Aquarius Records. Not because of any audible shortcomings in what I’ve heard – quite the opposite in fact – but because I am so genuinely intimidated by the sheer quantity of product that I wouldn’t know where to begin, even if I had the time to check it all.

It helps immensely to have a small scene showcase on your doorstep. I was fortunate to be able to speak to Tomutonttu’s Jan Anderzen at one just a stone’s throw from here, last year. Flu-smashed yet hardy and pragmatic the way Finnish people often seem to be, he answered my questions, told me about his records (one of which I bought and review here) and went on to deliver a delirious AV set so pantomorphic one’s eyes could scarcely settle on a single shape. Harry Smith’s Abstractions had nothing on it. So intense was my experience of his work that it hardly surprises me that British man-flu should have been to Anderzen but a minor setback.

When he’s not delivering mass hypnotism, Anderzen trades actively under any number of guises in the Finnish scene. He’s the lynchpin of the rotating-cast of Kemialliset Ystävät, and features in and on too many groups and releases to mention here (including confounding variations on the alias under review). That’s what Discogs is for. Tomutonttu is Anderzen’s private playground, presumably providing some sort of release valve for the many ideas he has knocking around. Indeed, he makes something of a virtue out of putting discarded recordings to good use with this project, largely by applying a ‘smash ‘em together and see how it sounds’ credo, which seems to work in his favour for the most part.

Comprising a selection of ‘aborted’ releases dating 2005-11, and blended beautifully to beget an ever-morphing audio pot pourri that never dispenses the same scent twice, Hylyt isn’t just a whimsical spelling of the word that gives us ‘special moments’; it actually translates as ‘Wrecks’, which in this case refers to ‘the collective state of consciousness attained on the way to the bottom’. I’ll spare you the Stygian psychology; suffice to say that through its disparate array of mysterious landscapes (and fidelities), the music sublimely illustrates a shift from one state of collapsible horror to another, exposing something quite entrancing in its entirety. Defined by the artist as “diploma work for the University of Bananafish” (whose Dylan Nyoukis ratifies the proclamation by providing an anomalous poem insert), this could easily have graced any one of that beloved magazine’s cover CDs. In fact, it sounds rather like a mischievous reworking of one’s entire contents: speed, direction and pitch all victims to a capricious and curious little sprite; weaving in and out of passages of pastoral psychedelia, slug-speed walls-of- noise and amplified, night-time twinklefests. There are, admittedly, points at which the transitions are a little too sudden, raising moments of doubt, but I suspect this effect to be volitional. Overall, it is an approachable brand of chaos.

Of a similar species, if a little more refined in pedigree, Tomuuntuu is another restless, amorphous and entirely more streamlined beast. This attractive picture disc sports a recording assembled as a radio piece, commissioned by Aanem Lumo Festival for New Sounds, and performed at the Orion Theatre in Helsinki on the 8th November 2010. I imagine it made rather a good impression, if Anderzen’s kaleidescopic AV shows affect Finnish audiences the way they do me. Beginning as an effervescent organ over a measured, thudding gait, it is tugged by one of Anderzen’s slow, transparent howls through the mirror, into a labyrinthine Wonderland of alien tweets and twitters, zaps and flutters, before skidding headlong into an intense cartoon alternate dimension soundtracked by the kinds of tape-splicing boffins who turn up on plush multi-disc compilations nowadays. And so on. By virtue of the single side, time is precious, so great lengths are taken to maximise the zany, card-shuffling states of mind, leaving the listener a rather bewildered winner. Our insanity is clearly Jan Anderzen’s clarity.

Bennifer Editions
Tomutonttu’s Soundcloud page

Eloquence Framed


Jessica Sligter
Fear and the Framing
NORWAY HUBRO CD2516 (2012)

With Fear and the Framing, Jessica Sligter has crafted an eclectic selection of tracks that serve to highlight the wide talents of this Dutch singer-songwriter.

Together, the ten tracks run the gamut from the gentle and folksy to the electric and dramatic. This contrast is never more pronounced than between track one, ‘Man Who Scares Me’, a beautiful, folksy ballad, and track two, ‘If That Was Crooked. This Is Straight’, a rumbling, unsettling instrumental. On first listen, such diversity only heightens the anticipation for the rest of the album, and thankfully the following tracks do not disappoint.

Fans of acoustic, guitar-based songs will find much to enjoy here, most notably on ‘The Perfect Vesse’l and ‘Fall, Here'; whereas tracks such as ‘Pricklet’ and ‘Scott Will Be Hierarch push’ the experimental boundaries. In lesser hands, the result of this mix could have been an unfocused collection of sounds; but here, each track is very much part of a unified whole, which is essentially held together through Sligter’s eloquent lyrics and haunting voice. The overall effect is a highly satisfactory, if slightly unnerving, experience.

Of course, with such diversity going on, this is not an album that will please all of the people all of the time, but it is never less than hypnotic and intriguing. In fact, listening to Fear and the Framing can be likened to coming across an abstract painting in a gallery that you just can’t look away from; the closer you examine it, the more its intricate detail and subtle layers are revealed.

Following her debut 2010 release, Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain (which was released under the name JÆ), comparisons to such artists as Will Oldham and Linda Perhacs were thrown around; and there’s no mistaking the influence of Bjork on some of the tracks on this follow-up album. However, there’s also no doubt that Sligter is a true original and deserves to be recognised as such.

Overall, this is a distinctive album that is at once soft and jagged; requiring several listens in order to fully fall under the spell of this talented singer-songwriter who will no doubt find her fan base has swelled considerably as a result of this latest impressive offering.

Eine Kleine Jazz Musik


Mats Eilertsen Trio
Sails Set

The second recording from Mats Eilertsen Trio is a gallery of vignettes neither perfected nor perfunctory, but briefly stated sentiments seemingly abstracted from memorable scenes. This peripatetic piano, drum and bass trio locates their work somewhere in the liminal terrain between improvisation and composition – a claim far from uncommon – but one ratified by a supple, intriguingly intangible sound, which is fortified by a finely-tuned harmonic rapport as the three flow in and out of a shifting array of formations with a sense of equality and equanimity evident in every note.

The eponymous ‘Sails Set’ provides a nonchalant entry: Harmen Fraanje’s piano tumbles like a winding mountain stream, pillowed by vibrations drawn from a slowly bowed double bass. This carefree manner is abruptly more angular in ‘Stellar’, in which a stark solo piano pans through an abandoned house in monochrome. Drummer Thomas Strønen wields a range of sticks throughout the album, mostly catalysts for calmer climates, but in ‘Orbiting’ his off-meter rolls of tinkling percussion stand as the most striking feature, complimented by a newly springy and staggered bass sound. Overall, it is Eilertsen‘s bass-playing that I’m most drawn to, being expressive of the group’s warm, non-committal personality, but laced with a soft, all-adhering resonance.

The moods pass effortlessly from one instrument to another as easily as the leading role. A sparing attitude towards instrumentation resides among the group’s many graces, and the negative space that surrounds and permeates every musical event is often as expressive as the performance. At times it has the air of a good film noir score (with a hint of zen minimalism in the core), albeit one lacking a theme tune. It is not dissimilar to some of the better material from John Zorn’s recent jazz output, though luckily lacking the exhausting pace and vibes.

One might assume that on record the trio further explores themes discovered while improvising, though forsaking motifs and melodies for the sake of a more impressionistic array of atmospheres. Their avoidance of distinct phrases suggests a series of extended segues, not scenes. The credo that ‘less is more’ is articulated perfectly in this short set, where even in its evident freedom there is ever a sense of restraint. The group sets out not to dazzle, but to enchant with careful attention to duration and detail.

From Some Faraway Field

BJ + COLEimg270

1982 + BJ Cole
1982 + BJ Cole

In this latest episode of musical wanderlust, steel guitar raconteur BJ Cole climbs on board with 1982, the trio comprising Nils Økland, Sigbjørn Apeland and drummer Øyvind Skarbø. The atmosphere is – and I offer the cliché without apology – ‘cinematic’. It speaks of sparseness, topographical isolation; the opening tracks redolent of the rural expanses of some Midwestern period drama starring Liam Neeson. In places, there are dim reminders of Bill Frisell.

In the opening, Apeland’s harmonium sets the tone of mournful grace, cueing a handsome entrance from Økland on the violin, which strides with dignity through the sparse, shuffling undergrowth. Like some wood-whittling background extra, Cole maintains a low profile throughout the opening track (entitled ‘09:03’, after its duration); a markedly different persona to the gregarious one I (last) encountered on the Luke Vibert collaboration, Stop The Panic. But moving in to the second track, he assumes a speaking role, gracing us with a voice both dynamic and dynamically varied. Sometimes tremulous, sometimes tremendous.

At times the air of mournful contemplation becomes almost nautical, as though fantasising of faraway seas, a ghostly galleon in the frozen morning fog, courtesy of the quiet swells of seabed-still sea shanties that emanate from the harmonium; the lilting, airborne twangs of steel guitar that conjure up Coleridge and vanish without warning like Ahab after his white whale. These are subsumed by alternating episodes of urgency (in which the erstwhile laconic Skarbø rallies his most determined rhythms) and muted pondering, marked by the albums distinctive tendency towards droning and daydreams.

In contrast to its relative brevity (just over 33 minutes here), there is depth to this recording that lends it the richness of the landscapes it evokes. The musicianship is beautifully restrained and intuitive to the point of identity surrender. The listening experience is rewarding and utterly recommended.

Eternal Zio: free-ranging folk drone improv psychedelia weaves a strange spell

Eternal Zio, self-titled, Boring Machines BM043LP / Black Sweat Records BS003LP, LP (2012)

Don’t let that label name Boring Machines distract you from the debut album of Milanese quartet Eternal Zio: these fellows do all they can to serve up an eclectic recording of free-ranging improv music on as many instruments as they can see in the recording studio. Hurdy gurdy, harmonica, church organ, tribal drums, high-pitched recorders and guitars are some of the ingredients blended into this musical masala. Most of the time, the musicians are at ease strumming their instruments or beating the drums sporadically and casually, as though the day is too hot to do anything other than rest. The tracks range from easy-going rhythm and melody exercises to long trance drone patterns and pieces that just fall a bit short of being “songs”.

At just over 30 minutes in length, this album more resembles one track of six different though related chapters than a collection of proto-songs. The mood is even and laidback, and very few songs lift their pace to something faster than a steady trot. Track 3 is a mesmerising trance poem with highly rhythmic drumming and gently shuddering drone vibrations wrapped around the tom-tom beats. I’m not sure if I’m hearing a bit of The Dead C, Bong, 6majik9 or some of the old Wooden Wand music with a dash of folk spice tossed in for extra flavour. Track 4 picks up a shamanic impression with a deep bull-roarer drone and a voice crooning as if deep in a hypnotic trance. The tribal idea reappears in Track 6, a celebratory stomp-a-thon in which the musicians howl and chant a strange liturgy in an exotic language all their own. I feel as though I’m back in the land of the Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, that duo who I’m sure we all miss so badly.

The musicians bring plenty of influences and experience to their group jam sessions but the over-riding genre here is folk-tinged droning psychedelia improv with some jazz. The album could have sustained longer and more developed tracks if Eternal Zio had desired. These guys have to be allowed to do their own thang or else the spell they weave might prove to be overkill and the listeners are in danger of remaining mute and spellbound long after the music has ended.

Contact: Boring Machines, Black Sweat Records



Unfolk + Live Book: psychedelic journey and call for justice in folk music adventures


Alessandro Monti, Unfolk + Live Book, Diplodisc, 2 x CD DIPL 005/6 (2012)

News reached me the other day of a young software engineer Amanda Ghassaei who etched a Radiohead album with a laser cutter on a wooden disc. She’s also etched other audio recordings onto acrylic and paper. Phooey, you all say, a wooden music-playing record has been made before. WHAT?! I had to find out and sure enough one Heracleum Ipotesis had done it way back when in the High Middle Ages to preserve his “unfolk” music compositions – or so says one Alessandro Monti who with his Unfolk Collective music combo have had their “Unfolk” album from 2006 remastered and reissued with a bonus CD of reworked songs from a previous album “The Venetian Book of the Dead”.

Most tracks on the remastered “Unfolk” disc might have Italian-language titles but the music draws influences from Irish folk music traditions, Indian ragas, Arab and Venetian mediaeval Venetian lute music among other music genres. The journey through the disc is an interesting one: it’s as much a tour through Western contemporary popular music turns on “folk” and tracks like “Aerofolk” feature mind-expanding space cosmic music played on electric guitar, synthesiser and other electronic keyboards, giving a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in the corpus of works by the likes of Can or Amon Düül 2. Speaking of “Aerofolk”, I think that’s becoming my favourite track here the more I listen to it for its sense of wide-eyed wonder and joy in exploring inner and outer space. Generally the happier the music on the album sounds, the better it is; the music that’s melancholy, brooding or contemplative tends to come across as a bit ordinary. One curious coincidence I note is that the violin melody on track 11 matches, note for note, the violin tune on Swedish 1970s space / folk rock group Älgarnas Trädgård’s song “Children of Possibilities” from that band’s first album; I think it’s likely both bands have used the same mediaeval tune.

Disc 2 “Live Book” sees a different set of musicians around Monti playing live in Mestre near Venice and in Leicester in 2011. About half the tracks from “The Venetian Book of the Dead”, referring to the workers and people who lost their lives to cancer and other diseases as a result of industrial accidents in areas around Venice and Mestre during the 1970s and 1980s, appear here. Subordinate to the lyrics, the music adopts moods appropriate to their message: dark, smoky and urgent (“Someone is always screwing someone”) and blunt, blaring and impassioned (“Forgive”). The best track here though is an excursion into a nostalgia for various 20th century music genres that had their roots in Afro-American oppression, poverty and despair: “Bedroom discotheque” gets its soulful, wistful emotion from the beautiful acoustic guitar and electric cello melodies and changes in key that bring an extra layer of dark desperation to vocalist Kevin Hewick’s singing. Through repetition of the lyrics, Hewick tries to push back an enormous and relentless advance of ice that threatens to wipe out an entire structure of music historical and cultural memory. His lyrical venture into hiphop to me seems awkward and ill-advised though, as if he can’t quite figure out how this music, born in poverty and violence-ridden ghettoes, and others like it came to be unashamed whores for the global music industry. (I can’t figure it out myself either, having felt estranged from hiphop and rap since the 1980s when the commercialisation of the genre began.) The music is a mix of unfolk, blues and rock with a slight dominance by electric guitars and other electrified musical instruments.

Some very good music is featured on both discs but there are also passages of quite stodgy instrumental music, especially on the latter half of Disc 2 where the music takes a more pessimistic and embittered turn with tracks like “The radioactive man”. Monti’s quest for social justice in his music hasn’t quite reached the stage where he might start tackling the true sources of oppression in our society, going after banks in their usurpation of control of global economies and their links with corporations across the world including the arms industry, and the media, both “conservative” and “progressive”, alike for pulling huge chunks of wool over our eyes.  I’m hoping he’s moving in a direction of calling for people to take back their power and do whatever they can under their control, no matter how small or petty, to create or recreate a fair world.

In an age in which most music produced these days is under the thumb of global media corporations and even the music of traditional societies from the past or in the current present is shaped and packaged by the music industry as an endless array of exotica, divorced from its original contexts, for consumption by tourists, Monti’s concept of unfolk music may be intended as a challenge to such concepts.



Right Heft

Concrete and Clay

I quite like the Gobi Wow (NEVER COME ASHORE NCALP1) LP from FvRTvR, which turns out to be the duo of the American percussionist Fritz Welch with German loonoid Guido Henneböhl working a mysterious home-made electronic monstrosity. Together they conspire to leak out disjunctive additive-free homegrown noise comprising electronic bursts, mangled voices, and hammered metallism. This pair were very good together on the Demon Cycle 1-9 release as I recall, a fairly fatal mesmerising diabolic charmer from which grotesque ancient voices would ofttimes creak. Gobi Wow has the same undercurrents of nastery, but is a lot more bitty…the general debris of the sound feels like broken masonry pieces scattered about the studio floor which cannot be fitted together, not least to reconstruct a Greek ruin. Add to that the general inclination of the two players towards refusing musical convention wherever possible, in favour of twisted, slimy and spiky eruptions. These strategies cohere to result in a difficult surface listen, full of uglification and indigestibility. However, what we can admire is the stern determination of the two farming-fishermen to keep going no matter what, even if the weather be inhospitable for planting oats, and the pond yields no more bream to the bitter worms that are suspended on their two rods. We haven’t come across this degree of coarsened aesthetic anti-pleasure since Adam Bohman played with Damian Bisciglia. Rachel Lowther did the modelling clay cover. And it is a good choice of imagery for the music, which has the rough and lumpy quality of a half-worked statement of rawness, ripped from the carcass of a two-headed artist-creating golem type monster. Arrived 25th April 2012.

Something, Anything

Lovely songs by Chris Weisman on his Fresh Sip (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR074) double LP. In fact the entire set is indeed like a “fresh sip” of fruit juice packed with goody vitamins. Chris did just about everything on the album, playing all the instruments and dubbing on tasty harmony vocals, and probably acting as his own producer between takes on what I assume were these home-made recordings originally produced in 2009 in his Battleboro home. There are two “suites”, and on Yen You, many of the songs could be said to start life built on a low-key electro-pop skeleton with a simple programmed beat to keep all elements working to order, but then again each song is also a springboard for rich harmonised vocal melodies, drones, guitar solos, and quite restrained supporting melodies played on nice keyboards. So far everything and everyone is doing flip-fops, lightweight acrobatics of poppy grace. There is a refreshing absence of freakery and psychotic weirdness from each of these sweet productions. Weisman has no interest in de-producing his own songs simply to demonstrate his studio know-how or to explode the mind of the listener, although this isn’t to deny his obvious recording skills. He just likes his art to conceal art. Another strong plus factor is quite simply the limpid beauty of the young man’s singing voice; The Association would have been proud to count him as a member any day. The lyrics seem quite poetic and personal too, with oblique and private messages that have a charm and a depth which you certainly won’t fathom with just one or two spins. Looks like this will be a grower. On I Don’t Care Again there are more songs in like vein, perhaps some of them weighted slightly more in favour of the acoustic guitar and the mysterious poetry and manufactured via a slightly more ramshackle production, but no doubt all four sides are cut from the same paisley cloth. The material was originally released on cassette in 2010 on Autumn Records, something I will never see, so this vinyl rescue is quite welcome. The sleeve design is understated to say the least, and may hint at something about the creator’s impish modesty. At a time when American underground music was in danger of losing its way in an ever-increasing spiral of eccentricity and insanity, it’s refreshing to find there are still some musicians who haven’t completely forsaken the craft of pop melody and concision in songwriting. The press notes make comparisons with Todd Rundgren, which are apt. From 31 May 2012.

Jollity Farm

Songwriting skill which soars and gallops on quite another plane can be found with the Happy Jawbone Family Band from Vermont, one of those wayward and very able combos which the USA seems to be breeding and exporting with considerable skill lately (Colin L. Orchestra, Trawler Bycatch, The Bird Names, King Kong Ding Dong). The songs on this hearty and extroverted freak-party album OK Midnight, You Win (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR063) are played with swagger and confidence, like a slightly tipsy form of country and western mixed with elements of raw psychedelia and played by mutant rockabilly guitarists, all of which would be welcome enough, but the real flavour of the album is to be savoured in the voice of the lead singer. He has a thick and clotted tone with vaguely nasal undercurrents, and he seems to be using a broad tongue which he wraps around each lyrical moment like it was a chunky golden nugget he’s about to chew. You never forget a distinctive singing voice. The effect is made yet more delicious with the additions of high-range female vocal harmonies and backing vocals, which have also signed up to the general agreement agreement to partake of the juice and rollick freely in a fun-loving balmy atmosphere. This may be as close as we’ll get in our time to a reincarnation of the great Kevin Ayers. But these crazed Yankees also have a slightly menacing side when they get warmed up, chanting and declaiming with emphatic mania like some militant hillbillies practising their war chants. Not every one of these melodies may be a memorable one, but when this group find the right couplet of dementia to savour, they’ll hammer it into your forehead with a six-inch nail. Beautifully recorded with a solid and punchy presence. I don’t really know who to credit with what in this loopy collective, although names are supplied on the insert, nor can I tell you what any of the songs mean. You don’t learn them with your brain, so much as feel them in the belly. All this issued under the wraps of cover art which proposes a mutant birth double-horse running every which way, and an insert textured with coarse animal hair.

This Heat

From same label we also have Cold / Burn (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR069), which is another kettle of bones and a return to the juddering noise-drone collective music thing we all love so well. It features Anla Courtis, Okkyung Lee, C. Spencer Yeh and Jon Wesseltoft, with Lasse Marhaug behind the controls – a major meeting of minds which I don’t expect will happen again any time soon. The album is two side-long improvisations made using violin, harmonium, cello and electric guitar, and oodles of instinctive inspiration. It’s one of those miracles of performed music where the finished product is full of paradox – a single wodge of monotonous sound, yet alive with teeming detail; staying firmly on one root note yet also allowing a million and one diversions to wriggle freely across wild scales and tonalities. What I also like is the slightly untidy quality of the playing, where no-one is paying attention to the strictures of performed improvisation, a genre which can have its own set of rigid rules. Nor do they hew to the self-imposed puritanism which can sometimes bedevil those who try to emulate the music of Terry Riley or La Monte Young. My hero on two legs is C. Spencer Yeh, the Bronze God from Brooklyn, who is supplying a good deal of the energy on these sides; when his bowing arm is coiled and unsprung he can piston back and forth continuously for as long as it take a dynasty in China to rise and fall. And any time Courtis steps into a studio or simply enters a room full of listeners, you can expect that room to become charged with his magical-realist visions as he spins his unlikely yarns of metaphysical heroism. Norwegian Wesseltoft, who also adds shruti box and organ to the droning churn, produced a memorable cassette called Singing Cobra Ecstasy for our ears in 2009, and here he just keeps up with a steady shimmering drone long beyond the point of normalcy or sanity would expect. Korean cellist Lee is that fragile genius who won us over with her understated work on the Anicca LP for Dancing Wayang. Besides gender balance in a group, it’s arguably important to get a good balance of acoustic and electric instruments, which may be which this session scores such a direct hit on certain nerval synapses and brainial cord-crakes. You gotta swallow the whole thing like a horse pill the size of a hockey puck to get full effect, and submerge both feet in the rich organic dronery which knows no boundaries, showing how the power of massed imaginative energy in a mutually respecting improv context can knock formal composition hollow, when the parameters are just right. Excellent. From 27th February 2012.